Story Telling has been a valued skill in human history, providing both entertainment and education. Much of our knowledge of the early beliefs of civilization comes to us from the voices of Bards, Poets, Skalds and Story Tellers long departed




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”The Dead” Discussion



WRITING THE OPENING PARAGRAPH

Your opening statement is the one that sets the tone of your essay and possibly raises the expectations of the reader. Spend time on your first paragraph to maximize your score.

Make certain that your topic is very clear. This reinforces the idea that you fully understand what is expected of you and what you will communicate to the reader. Generally, identify both the text and its author in this first paragraph.

A suggested approach is to relate a direct quotation from the passage to the topic.

Tip: Consider the "philosophy of firsts." It is a crucial strategy to spend focused time on the first part of the question and on the first paragraph of the essay because:

  1. It establishes the direction and tone of your essay.

  2. It gives you the guidelines for what to develop in your essay.

  3. It connects you to the reader.

If you focus on the beginning, the rest will fall into place. A wonderful thing happens after much practice, highlighting, and note-taking. Your mind starts to focus automatically. It is the winning edge that can take an average essay and raise it to a higher level.

Highlight these points to see if you've done them. You may be surprised at what is actually there.

  • Have you included author and title?

  • Have you addressed the character of Gabriel?

  • Have you specifically mentioned the techniques you will refer to in your essay?


Here are four sample opening paragraphs that address all of the criteria:

  1. In "The Dead" by James Joyce, the character Gabriel is revealed through diction, point of view, and imagery as he watches his wife sleep.

  2. Poor Gabriel! Who would have thought he knew so little about himself and his life. And yet, in "The Dead," James Joyce, through diction, point of view, and imagery, makes it clear to the reader and to Gabriel that there is much to reveal about his character.

  3. "Yes, yes: this would happen very soon." And, yes, very soon the reader of the excerpt from Joyce's "The Dead" gets to know the character of Gabriel. Through diction, point of view, and imagery, we are introduced to Gabriel and what he thinks of himself.

  4. "The Dead." How apt a title. James Joyce turns his reader into a fly on the wall as Gabriel is about to realize the many losses in his life. Death pervades the passage, from his sleeping wife to his dying aunt.

Each of these opening paragraphs is an acceptable beginning to an Literature exam essay. Note what each of these paragraphs has:

  • Each has identified the title and author.

  • Each has stated which technique/devices will be used.

  • Each has stated the purpose of analyzing these techniques/devices.

Now, note what is different about each opening paragraph.

Sample A restates the question without anything extra. It is to the point, so much so that it does nothing more than repeat the question. It's correct, but it does not really pique the reader's interest. (Use this type of opening if you feel unsure of or uncomfortable with the prompt.)

Sample B reveals the writer's attitude toward the subject. The writer has already determined that Gabriel is flawed and indicates an under-standing of how Gabriel's character is revealed in the passage.

Sample C, with its direct quotation, places the reader immediately into the passage. The reader quickly begins to hear the writer's voice through his or her choice of words (diction).

Sample D, at first glance, reveals a mature, confident writer who is not afraid to imply the prompt's criteria.

Note: There are many other types of opening paragraphs that could do the job as well. The paragraphs above are just a few samples.

Into which of the above samples would you classify your opening paragraph?


WRITING THE BODY OF THE PROSE PASSAGE ESSAY

When you write the body of your essay, take only 15—20 minutes. Time yourself and try your best to finish within that time frame.

What should I include in the body of the prose passage essay?

  1. Obviously, this is where you present your interpretation and the points you wish to make that are related to the prompt.

  2. Use specific references and details from the passage.

    1. Don't always paraphrase the original; refer directly to it.

    2. Place quotation marks around those words and phrases that you extract from the passage.

  3. Use "connective tissue" in your essay to establish adherence to the question.

    1. Use the repetition of key ideas from your opening paragraph.

    2. Try using "echo words" (i.e., synonyms, such as death/loss/passing or character/persona/personality).

    3. Create transitions from one paragraph to the next.

To understand the process, carefully read the following sample paragraphs. Each develops one of the categories and techniques/devices asked for in the prompt. Notice the specific references and the "connective tissue." Also, notice that details that do no apply to the prompt have been ignored.

  1. This paragraph develops imagery.

Joyce creates imagery to lead his reader to sense the cloud of death that pervades Gabriel's world. From its very title "The Dead," the reader is prepared for loss. Just what has Gabriel lost: his wife, his confidence, his job, a friend, a relative, what? As his "wife slept," Gabriel sees her "half-open mouth" and "listens" to her "deep-drawn breath." The reader almost senses this to be a death watch. The images about the room reinforce this sense of doom. One boot is "limp" and the other is "fallen down." Picturing the future, Gabriel sees a "drawing-room dressed in black" with blinds "drawn down" and his Aunt Kate "crying" and "telling him how Julia had died." And to underscore his own feelings of internal lifelessness, he can only find "lame and useless" words of comfort.

  1. This paragraph develops the motif of time.

Time is a constant from the beginning to the end of the passage. In the first paragraph, Gabriel is in the present while thinking of the past. He is an observer, watching his wife as he, himself, is observed by the narrator, and as we, as readers, observe the entire scene. Time moves the reader and Gabriel through the experience. Immediately, we spend a "few moments" with Gabriel as he goes back and forth in time assessing his relationship with his wife. He recognizes she "had had romance in the past." But, "it hardly pains him now." He thinks of what she had been "then" in her "girlish" beauty, which may indicate his own aging. His "strange, friendly pity," because she is "no longer beautiful," may-be self-pity, as well. In the next paragraph, we are with Gabriel as he reflects on his emotional "riot" only an hour before. However, he jumps to the future because he can't sustain self-examination. He chooses to allow himself to jump to this future and a new subject—Aunt Julia's death. In this future, he continues to see only his inability and incompetence. For Gabriel, all this will happen "very soon."

  1. This passage develops diction.

Gabriel appears to be a man who is on the outside of his life. Joyce's diction reveals his passive nature. Gabriel "looked on" and "watched" his wife sleeping. He spent time "listening to her breath" and was "hardly pained by his role in her life." His eyes "rest" on her, and he "thinks of the past." All of Gabriel's actions are as weak as a "limp" and "fallen down" boot, "inert in the face of life." He is in direct contrast to Michael Furey, who has "braved death." And he knows this about himself. The narrator's diction reveals that Gabriel "did not like to say even to himself” implying that he is too weak to face the truth.

Later in the text, Gabriel's word choice further indicates his insecurity. He is troubled by his "riot of emotions," his "foolish speech." It is obvious that Gabriel will not take such risks again.

  1. This passage develops style.

Joyce's very straightforward writing style supports the conclusions he wishes the reader to draw about the character of Gabriel. Most sentences are in the subject/verb, simple sentence form, reflecting the plain, uncomplicated character of Gabriel.

Joyce employs a third person narrator to further reinforce Gabriel's detachment from his own circumstances. We watch him observing his own life with little or no connection on his part. He wonders at his "riot of emotions." All this is presented without Joyce using obvious poetic devices. This punctuates the lack of "romance" in Gabriel's life when compared with that of Michael Furey.

Tip: Start a study group. Approach an essay as a team. After you've deconstructed the prompt, have each person write a paragraph on a separate area of the question. Then come together and discuss what was written. You'll be amazed at how much fun this is because the work will carry you away. This is a chance to explore exciting ideas.


We urge you to spend more time developing the body paragraphs than worrying about a concluding paragraph, especially one that begins with "In conclusion," or "In summary." In such a brief essay, the reader will have no problem remembering what you have already stated. It is not necessary to repeat yourself in a summary-type final paragraph.

If you want to make a final statement, try to link your ideas to a particularly effective line or image from the passage.

Note: Look at the last line of Sample B on motif. For Gabriel, all this will happen "very soon." This final sentence would be fine as the conclusion to the essay. A conclusion does not have to be a paragraph. It can be the writer's final remark or observation presented in a sentence or two.


SAMPLE STUDENT ESSAYS

Following are two actual student essays followed by a rubric and comments on each. Read both of the samples in sequence to clarify the differences between "high" and "mid-range" essays.

Student Essay A



A picture is worth a thousand words, but James Joyce manages to paint a pretty vivid one in only two short paragraphs. Joyce offers tremendous insight into the character of Gabriel in the short story “The Dead.” He captures the essence of a scene laden with death and laced with tones of despair and hopelessness. By employing third person narration alternating with a stream of consciousness, Joyce demonstrates his abilities to delve deep into Gabriel’s mind, illustrating this somewhat detached disposition and low self-image.

The passage takes us through Gabriel’s reflections upon past, present, and future events while his inner character unfolds. Joyce’s careful use of diction suggests that Gabriel has emotionally closed himself off to the world as he tries to cope with some aforementioned incident. He was “hardly pained” to think about a situation which caused a “riot of emotions” just a little earlier on that evening. Here, Joyce is emphasizing Gabriel’s way of coping with an unfavorable event by blocking it out. He continues to “unresentfully” reflect upon what had occurred, closing himself off from any pain he obviously experienced a short while ago.

With the powerful omniscience of a third-person narrator, Joyce is able to describe the workings of Gabriel‘s inter consciousness without writing from the first-person point of view. Gabriel further detaches himself as he thinks about his wife. He watches her from the point of view of an outsider, as if they were never married. The mere fact that Gabriel is able to do this suggests that he and his wife do not have a truly loving relationship. This assertion is underscored by the “friendly” pity Gabriel feels for his wife, emphasizing the lack of true love in their relationship. Gabriel later questions his wife’s honesty, further emphasizing a troubled relationship. The reader may be inclined to infer that Gabriel is completely devoid of compassion; however, this idea is refuted. Gabriel proceeds to express an element of sorrow when he thinks back to his wife’s youth and beauty.

The evening’s events had evidently triggered some type of emotional outburst which Gabriel cannot stop thinking about. His mental state is paralleled by the chaotic state of disorder in the room he is in. With a masterful control of language and syntax, Joyce describes in short, choppy sentences they array of clothing strewn around the room. This is followed by one of the longest sentences in the passage. Joyce reveals this series of events all at once, paralleling Gabriel’s release of a multitude of emotions at once.

Joyce weaves a motif of darkness and death into the story. His aunt’s “haggard” appearance ironically catches Gabriel’s attention during the recitation of Arrayed for the Bridal, a seemingly happy song. This image of happiness and marriage is further contrasted with images of the woman’s funeral and a detailed description of how Gabriel will mourn for her. Joyce also takes time to underscore Gabriel’s low self-esteem, in that he will only think of “lame and useless” words at a time when comforting tones are necessary. He essentially describing himself, since it has been established that he failed as a husband and that he is emotionally distraught even though he blocks out the pain he feels. “The blinds would be drawn down,” Gabriel says, as he describes both the room at his aunt’s funeral and his mental state of affairs.

The true originator of “stream-of-consciousness” techniques, Joyce delves deep into Gabriel’s mind, describing his wide range of emotions and state of mind. His powerful diction reveals a great deal about Gabriel’s character while his implied insights penetrate into the reader’s mind, reinforcing the abstract meanings behind the actions and events that transpire throughout the course of his story.


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